The first aircraft certified for ethanol operations, Embraer’s Ipanema, is quite a nifty sight to behold. During a tour of Embraer’s Sao Jose dos Campos headquarters and assembly facility last week, the company’s executives were generous enough to give a motley crew of journalists an up-close-and-personal look at the green machine, an agricultural aircraft that was wholly designed in Brazil.
The original low-wing Ipanema entered service in 1973, but the ethanol-fuelled version – of which there are now 196 in operation – was certified well over 30 years later. Of this amount, a total 41 Ipanemas constitute new-build aircraft and 155 are converted aircraft.
The Botucatu facility in Sao Paulo that manufactures the Ipanema is being expanded.
Okay, so can the ethanol used in general aviation operations be used for jets? Sorry. No. The mass and volumetric heats of combustion do not meet the needs of jet aircraft. It’s a low-speed bird after all. But a cool one nonetheless! Check out the latest official shots from Embraer, and a little personal one of a Kate Winslet-wannabe off the coast of Islabela in Brazil. And then read on for Embraer’s take on the biofuels that just might work for jets.
Embraer’s director of strategies and technologies for the environment, Graciliano Campos, says three sources for biofuel are showing the most promise to Embraer – Babassu, derived from a palm tree in Brazil; Jathropa, commonly referred to as the ‘plague’ due to the ease at which it grows; and algae.
The last of these, algae is “150 times more productive than any other biomass area” and has the potential to “win the technology race”, says Campos.
He confirms that Embraer is involved in all three projects. The company this year is investing a total $250 million into development of technology and pre-competitive technology, which includes biofuel studies, he says.